2014 World Cup / Commentary

Mark Geiger flips the Geiger Counter

Photo: Earl Gardner

The Geiger Counter just flipped.

Not sure how to explain it. It just did.

You see, Mark Geiger has been the standard of poor or overzealous officiating in Major League Soccer for three years here at The Philly Soccer Page.

In games he officiated, Geiger often became the story. Geiger would call too few fouls early on, a game would get chippy and eventually way out of hand, and he would rein it in suddenly with flashes of red cards that would dramatically change the game. Geiger often seemed bigger than the individual game he was officiating, becoming a deciding figure at a crucial point.

It was enough that, when PSP decided that the uneven officiating in MLS warranted a grade for each game’s performance, we called it the Geiger Counter. The feature now appears after Philadelphia Union games as part of PSP’s regular postgame player ratings. When we occasionally neglect to include the feature, readers are kind enough to chew us out and demand its return.

Some of us always felt bad about this, because Geiger is a local guy from Lacey Township, N.J. This was a man who was named MLS Referee of the Year in 2011 and was highly regarded in his other profession, earning a Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science teaching in 2009.

But he had earned the Geiger Counter.

So how do we explain his performance at the World Cup, where he is the only American referee calling games?

Geiger has stood out as one of the best referees in the tournament.

One could call that an indictment of the other referees at the tourney, and that might be true to an extent. But it’s not the full story.

Geiger has truly done a stellar job in the two games he has run as lead official. While there have been various incidents of poor officiating at the World Cup — one line judge has already been sent home for bad calls — they haven’t happened in Geiger’s games, Colombia-Greece and Spain-Chile. In these games, the referee has not been bigger than the game. He simply called it the way it’s supposed to be called.

So what happened? Did Geiger evolve and become a better referee? Were we just wrong? Or is it something else? Could it be that the style of MLS is just so completely different from the international game that it demands something different of referees?

It may be a combination of those. (Not PSP being wrong though. Never that!)

MLS has a different style of play from most of the international teams that played in the games Geiger officiated this month. Spain and Chile are dynamic, attacking teams that aren’t exactly going overboard with their physical play. You could say the same for Colombia, although not so much for Greece.

Meanwhile, MLS is known as a very physical league in which persistent fouling is often acceptable enough that it endangers the league’s more technical players and doesn’t do much for producing an attractive style of play. There are two logical approaches for a ref to deal with this:

  1. Call a very tight game to maintain control and change the way players play so that it isn’t as physical.
  2. Accept that this is the league’s culture and call a looser game, stepping in only when things threaten to get out of hand.

Geiger often employs the second approach in MLS, and with physical teams like Philadelphia, the game eventually does gradually get out of hand, forcing Geiger to step in.

But employing the second approach in Brazil works when you’re not dealing with cynical, physical soccer. It’s all you need for Spain and Chile.

Beyond that, Geiger has simply made the right calls. No mistakes stand out. That’s what you want from a referee.

So what do we do here at the Philly Soccer Page? Do we have to change the name of the Geiger Counter?

Of course not. Our readers love it. And it serves a purpose.

We’ll just broaden its origin story. It began as a feature used to measure how bad a referee was.

Now that we see how good an official Geiger can be, we can genuinely view the Geiger Counter as a measure of how good a referee is.

Six of one, half a dozen of the other? Whatever. Credit goes where credit is due.

We just flipped the Geiger Counter. Or better yet, Mark Geiger just flipped it.


I wrote this column prior to watching Tuesday’s Italy-Uruguay match, in which Geiger was the fourth official. Sure enough, Geiger imprinted himself on the match when he ejected a member of the Italian staff. What to make of this? Just laugh and nod sagely.

Live chat during USA-Germany

I’ll be hosting a live chat during the USA-Germany match on Thursday over at NJ.com and Pennlive.com. You can join in at either site. Game time is noon.


  1. That Italian coach went over to the Uruguay side and was yelling at them. He had to go. It was the only correct ejection call from that game.

  2. I Am Your Father says:

    Any way we can update this to the Darth Newman counter? Keeps finding ways to screw the Reading United every year. Took lessons from the Mark Geiger School of Refereeing.

    Made a horrific judgement call on a handball in the box, which led to a game winning goal for Long Island. Had a 10 foul discrepancy between teams (19-9 Reading), and handed out 9 yellow cards on the day. Boiled over with shoving in the late stages of the game.

    I submit to you, the Darth Newman Counter.

  3. Example: see Jun 24 Union v Cosmos match. Its not just MLS where soccer is overly physical, its the American brand of soccer. Been that way for years. Most American players are on equal level – so only way to distinguish yourself or your team is to “take it to ’em” or be able to withstand the rugged play.

    It is getting better, but very slowly. As younger players are converting over to coaching, I observe them stress technique over brute force.

    Referees are in a bad spot – no one wants to see games with 30-40 fouls per game. That is truly ugly soccer. So they do their best to keep the flow without someone getting hurt.

    Regrettably I believe it will be another 15-20 years for this to flush itself to the adult and pro ranks.

    • Last night’s ref must’ve heard that the Geiger Counter name was up for debate – he certainly made a strong push for it. That being said, I’m good with keeping it as is. Geiger definitely has worked his way up the counter in recent times.

  4. Section 114 says:

    An awful call by PSP. He earned the name. And he has earned a reprieve. Update the name!

  5. After last night’s USOC match the referee rating should be renamed The Elfath Meter.

  6. i would like to win a psp

  7. Maybe the Geiger Counter’s half life has expired.

  8. Gee, Mark just received his fourth World Cup assignment, his third as the center referee. The FIFA assessors must think he’s doing a pretty good job.

    I hate to say this, Philly, but maybe this is a “you” problem, not a “he.”

  9. Emanuel uyi says:

    Mark Geiger handling of the France/ Nigeria game was horrific. Allowing the French to go free for unprofessional conduct, rough play, etc. He even disallowed a nigeran goal that was clearly not offsides. His conduct reeks of bias. I sincerely hope fifa gets done with him.

    • Meh. You can complain about the fouls, tho it seemed pretty even. But the offside was spot on. If that’s what you’re going to use, you lose. And frankly, the game was nowhere near those where one can legitimately complain about the ref. Doing so makes the Nigerian team and their fans seem small.

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